Adelaide is Australia’s festival city. Its arts festival has just wound up. Polite debate, aesthetics and high-octane wine are putting the world to rights. With one exception. Adelaide is where Rupert Murdoch began his empire. The voracious trail starts here. No statue stands; his is a spectral presence, controlling the only daily newspaper, even the printing presses. Across Australia, he owns almost 70 per cent of the capital city press and the only national newspaper, and Sky Television, and much else. Welcome to the world’s first murdochracy.
What is a murdochracy? It is where the fealty and augmentation of Murdoch’s editors and managers are undisguised, an inspiration to his choir on seven continents, where even his competitors sing along and wise politicians heed the Murdochism: “What’ll it be? A headline a day or a bucket of shit a day?”
While the veracity of this celebrated remark is sometimes disputed, its spirit is not. Stricken with pneumonia, the former prime minister John Howard dragged himself out of bed to pay obeisance to the man to whom he owed many empty buckets.
His successor, Kevin Rudd, scurried to an obligatory audience with Murdoch in New York prior to his election.
This is standard across the planet. Before he took power, Tony Blair was flown to an island off Queensland to stand at the blue Newscorp lectern and pledge Thatcherism and media de-regulation to the jowled figure nodding in the front row. The next day, the Sun lauded Blair as one who “has vision [and] speaks our language on morality and family life”.
Murdoch knows that little separates the main political parties in Australia, Britain and America. He plays the man. In 1972, he backed Australia’s Gough Whitlam who revealed a radical reformer, even threatening to expose America’s spy bases. A furious Murdoch swung his newspapers against Whitlam with stories so outrageously skewed that rebellious journalists on The Australian burned their newspaper in the street. That has never been repeated.
Dominant themes in the Australian murdochracy, sport and celebrity gossip aside, are the promotion of war and jingoism, American foreign policy, Israel and a paternalism towards Aborigines, the world’s most impoverished indigenous people, according to the UN.
This antiquated cold warring is not due entirely to the Murdoch press, of course, but the agenda is. When the Indonesian tyrant General Suharto was about to be overthrown by his own people, the editor-in-chief of The Australian Paul Kelly led a delegation of editors from most of Australia’s principal newspapers to Jakarta. With Kelly at his side, the mass murderer, whom the Murdoch papers promoted as a “moderate”, accepted the tribute of each.
Murdoch’s most unabashed, if entertaining, retainer is Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian. On one his adoring trips to the United States, home of Murdoch HQ, Sheridan wrote, “The US is the greatest possible argument for media deregulation. Every morning, I flick between Fox, CNN and MSNBC as I eat my cereal … why did it take so long for pay TV to get to Australia? …” He was referring, as if instinctively, to his master’s pay TV company, Foxtel. As for terrorism, Sheridan blames “Pilgerist Chomskyism” for “ideologically fuelling the followers of Osama bin Lenin, sorry Laden”.
One of the most effective campaigns in the Australian murdochracy has been the whitewashing of a bloody colonial past, including a series of attacks on the distinguished chronicler of the Aboriginal genocide, Professor Henry Reynolds, and the director of the National Museum of Australia, Dawn Casey, for having dared to present the truth about indigenous suffering.
Australia’s great maverick historian, the late Manning Clark, was smeared by Murdoch’s Courier-Mail as a Red agent, then as a fraud, in much the style that Murdoch’s London Sunday Times smeared the Labour MP Michael Foot as a Soviet agent.
Something similar awaits those who question the manipulation of the remembrance of Australia’s blood sacrifice for imperialism, old and new. Aimed at the young, a maudlin “new patriotism” reaches an annual climax on April 25, the anniversary of the First World War disaster at Gallipoli known as Anzac Day. The message is undisguised militarism promoting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, Prime Minister Rudd says, absurdly, that the military is Australia’s highest calling.
Such false flags are flown constantly for Israel, which sees a stream of Australian journalists sponsored and paid for by Zionist groups. The result is apologetic reporting of murderous actions that evokes the great appeasers like Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times in the 1930s. The debate about state war crimes has all but bypassed Australia. That a former and current British prime minister have been summoned before the Chilcot enquiry in London is viewed with bemusement as nothing like it would happen here. Yet John Howard, who also invaded Iraq, holds something of a record for having claimed 30 times in one speech that he knew Saddam Hussein had a “massive programme” of weapons of mass destruction.
The national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has long been intimidated by the Murdoch press in the obsessive manner of the campaign waged against the BBC. Funded directly by governments, the ABC has none of the nominal independence and protection of Britain’s system of a TV licence fee as the resource for public broadcasting. Last year, HarperCollins, owned by Murdoch, was awarded a lucrative “partnership” with the ABC’s publishing arm, ABC Books.
In 1983, there were 50 major corporations dominating the world’s media. By 2002, this had been reduced to nine. Rupert Murdoch says that eventually there will be three, including his own. If we accept this, media and information control will be the same, and we shall all be citizens of a murdochracy.